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Overdoses linked to illicit vape juice

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20th November, 2023

NSW Health has issued a community drug alert after at least three overdoses, including one death, were linked to potent opioids in black market vape juice used for refillable vapes.

The opi­oid over­dos­es in NSW have been linked to pow­er­ful syn­thet­ic opi­oids called nitazenes (a potent syn­thet­ic opi­oid) in illic­it vape juice.

In one case, the per­son thought the vape refill liq­uid con­tained a syn­thet­ic cannabi­noid (sim­i­lar to THC), but it actu­al­ly con­tained a nitazene.

Nitazenes can be stronger and last longer than fen­tanyl. They are far stronger than most oth­er opi­oids and an over­dose can be caused by tak­ing even a small amount.

Nitazenes can also affect a person’s breath­ing more than oth­er opi­oids. Over­dose has occurred in a mat­ter of min­utes, with as lit­tle as 6–8 puffs of a vape if it con­tains a nitazene, even in peo­ple who are used to using opioids.

Fen­tanyl test strips will not detect nitazenes.

A woman in a lab coat and safety glasses using a pipette and test tubes.
Vapes are reg­u­lar­ly test­ed at our Foren­sic & Ana­lyt­i­cal Sci­ence Ser­vice laboratories

Be aware that opi­oids (like nitazenes) and oth­er drugs can be present in illic­it vape juice – and you might be sold some­thing dif­fer­ent than what you think you’re buying.

NSW Health reg­u­lar­ly informs the pub­lic of known high risk drugs in cir­cu­la­tion and has col­lab­o­rat­ed with the NSW Users and AIDS Asso­ci­a­tion (NUAA) to issue a Com­mu­ni­ty Drug Alert.

NSW Health Pathology’s Illic­it Drugs Analy­sis Unit works every day to keep the com­mu­ni­ty safe by con­duct­ing tests on drugs seized by police.

Their work sup­ports the health and jus­tice sys­tems and con­tributes to pub­lic health alerts and drug warn­ings like this one.


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